In an interview with TheBlaze Books [Twitter, Facebook] in connection with the release of his new book, “A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred,” we spoke with prodigious columnist and author George Will on all things baseball and his unified theory of beer, and then moved on to the arguably more important topic of the state of the union, touching on everything from the American founding, Will’s affinity for the Tea Party, to 2016, to immigration.
Among other explosive comments, Will told us that he is “quite confident that we’re going to rebel against this abusive government…sooner or later arithmetic is going to force realism on us.”
Our interview, which we conducted via phone, is below, slightly modified to include links and italics for emphasis.
There’s the old cliché that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Is there a time in world history that you think is most analogous to today, and what country do you think in that era represented America? In other words, are we in World War I, and America is the British Empire, or is this World War II, or are we Rome? I’m curious as to your thoughts.
Will: Well ever since at about the time of the American founding, Edward Gibbon wrote “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” people have been fascinated by the threat that democracies would decay; that history would be cyclical not linear; that decay and decline was inevitable; that the seeds of destruction were in particular regimes and particularly in democracies. And clearly the American founders worried about this. And Lincoln worried about it at Gettysburg, that the question was “Whether we shall long endure this form of government.”
So I think that we’re in a period today comparable to the American founding period in two senses: one, we’re worried about decay — we’re worried about whether we’re squandering our legacy and whether we’re calling into question whether people can really govern themselves — but also because, and this is the heartening part of this, today as never before in my lifetime, Americans have rekindled their interest in the founding era and the founding principles. Look at the wonderful sales of biographies of the founders: Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison. Look at the Tea Party, which I think frankly is one of the great events of my lifetime.
The American people go through life with a little crick of their necks from looking back at the past, and that’s healthy. We always relate to the Declaration and to the Constitution and here, along comes the Tea Party movement named after something that happened in 1773: the Boston Tea Party. And it’s called us back to reverence for, and understanding of, and insistence upon, the founding principles of limited government. So, in a good sense and a bad sense, I think we’re in the founding period. We’re in a period like our founding when we considered first principles and worried about the possibility of decay.
What do you view as the greatest threat to America today?
Will: The greatest threat to America today – there are two of them and they’re related: one is family disintegration, the fact that Americans’ babies are born to unmarried women. We know the importance of a father in the home. We know that the family is the primary transmitter of what’s called social capital, that is the habits, mores, customs, values, dispositions that make for success in a free society. So that’s one threat to America.
The other is the simple fact that we will not live within our means. We are piling up debts for other people to pay. We used to borrow money for the future. We won wars for the future. We built roads, highways, bridges, dams, airports for the future. Now, we’re borrowing from the future, from the rising generations in order to finance our own current consumption of government services, and that just seems to me as fundamentally and self-evidently wrong as can be.
And to follow up on that, I would imagine that you probably agree that politics is a reflection of the culture – policies can ultimately have an effect on the culture, but politics stems from the culture. So to that end, can you see a time at which our society will so rebel against the Leviathan state that it will actually vote to slash it’s own benefits, and the largesse that it’s receiving?
Will: I’m quite confident that we’re going to rebel against this abusive government. I think that, you know Winston Churchill said, “The American people invariably do the right thing after they have exhausted all the alternatives.” And I think we’re beginning to get to the bottom of the list of alternatives, and to realize that arithmetic is inexorable. You can’t make 2+2 equal 7, and sooner or later arithmetic is going to force realism upon us.
Now jumping to 2016, the paradigm I see is that the Establishment will coalesce around one figure — and today it seems as if the main flavor is, and I know you wrote about this recently, Jeb Bush — but as I see it an Establishment candidate since we’ve had one since the days of Rockefeller that Establishment folks can all get behind. And then you’ll have a series of other candidates running against the Establishment, likely it seems that Ted Cruz and Rand Paul would fit this bill. And it would seem the Establishment will want Cruz and Paul to savage each other, and split the vote, leading to an Establishment candidate rising to victory in the 2016 GOP presidential primary. Where am I wrong in this thesis?
Will: I think you’re wrong in two particulars. One is the suggestion that there can be a binary choice early on – Establishment against a non-Establishment candidate. I think the Republican bench is so talented and so rich with possibilities right now that there won’t be that kind of binary moment. Second, I think the phrase “Establishment” is tossed around a little too freely. There was a time when there really was a Republican Establishment. Goldwater began to kill it when he got the nomination over Nelson Rockefeller in 1964. In the 1960s, the House organ of the Republican Establishment, the New York Herald Tribune newspaper went out of business, and that’s sort of symbolic to me. In 1964, when Rockefeller failed to defeat Goldwater in the California primary, as they went to the San Francisco Convention, the Republican Establishment, the editors of Time Life and all that and the Herald Tribune got together and they just conjured up a rival overnight – literally overnight: Bill Scranton, the governor of Pennsylvania. Goldwater turned him aside, and since then the Republican Establishment has been declining, and today I’m not sure there is an Establishment that can behave the way it used to.
Furthermore, if any one candidate, Jeb Bush or anyone else, becomes identified as the choice of the Republican Establishment, the one thing you know for sure is he won’t be nominated. And I think, I imagine Jeb Bush understands this. That would be a crippling stigma.
I saw on one of the Sunday shows probably a month or two back, you had a pretty heated debate with Laura Ingraham on immigration. It seemed that in that debate, both sides were represented quite well – and the arguments were framed quite well on both sides. Make your case to conservatives who are against some form of amnesty as to why there should be some form of amnesty.
Will: Here’s why: there are 11 million people here illegally. They’re not going home. The fact that the American people would not tolerate the police measures necessary to extract these people from our communities, something like 40% have been here five years or more, large numbers have been here 10 years or more, they’ve had children here who are American citizens under the Constitution. 7 million of these people are in the workforce, performing jobs for which the market has a demand. The American workforce as our population ages needs immigrants, needs immigration.
Furthermore, immigration is an entrepreneurial act. These are people who uproot themselves, take a risk, come to a strange country and a new culture and a new language in many cases to try and better themselves. And I want this to be a continued infusion of energy into America. And I think immigrants make wonderful patriots because they’re grateful to the country that enables them to help themselves and their families.
Again, they’re not going home. We’re just not going to – no one has a plan, no one has a proposal, no one is going to uproot these 11 million – so the very fact that they’re staying is semi-amnesty. What we have to do is make it orderly, and reasonable. I’m not one of those who says open borders, certainly not. Control of the borders is an essential attribute of national sovereignty. But, fact is conservatives are supposed to be the realists in this life. They look facts in the face. And the fact is these 11 million are a. not going home, b. are largely employed, c. are needed. So that would be the case you asked me to make.